Hearing set on changes ahead of Bethany Arms redevelopment

The citizens of Bethany Beach will get a chance to weigh in on a proposal to redevelop the Bethany Arms Motel into a flagship hotel when the town council holds a public hearing on Friday, March 15, at 4 p.m., to hear comment on six proposed changes to town code that would be needed to let the project go forward.

Developer Jack Burbage, who has a contract to buy the property, has proposed to redevelop it as a Hilton or Marriott hotel with about 100 rooms, along with a conference center and banquet facilities, and a spa for use by guests and the public. Burbage brought the proposal to the town council at their January council workshop, at which point town staff began reviewing existing code to see what changes would be required to let the project become a reality.

According to Town Manager Cliff Graviet, among the sections of code that would need changes are some that town staff considered illogical and antiquated — apparently developed to pertain to the Bethany Arms alone, setting a standard for small rooms (even smaller in the case of rooms with a kitchen) but not permitting the kind of density needed to allow 100 rooms on the property.

With a list of six proposed changes subsequently considered and recommended by the town’s planning commission, the next step is next Friday’s public hearing.

Graviet noted that, even absent the Bethany Arms redevelopment project, staff have advocated that the changes be made to the code. He said they considered that a commercial lodging project might be more desirable on the site than a potential retail complex — especially since a hotel would require one parking space minimum per room, but retail shops would have no related parking requirement.

Any future owner of the property, he said, would need the six code changes to be made before a commercial lodging project would be feasible.

Among the six proposed changes to the town code are:

• Changing the minimum square footage of a commercial lodging room from 150 square feet to 200 square feet of livable floor area. The larger size is described by town officials as the current industry standard for a hotel room.

• Addition of definitions of livable floor area and livable floor square footage, which are currently not defined in the code, even though minimums for both are set. Livable floor area does not include basements, open decks and attics, while livable floor square footage includes the area of a room not including elements such as stairwells, hallways, columns, closets, toilet rooms, showers and bathrooms.

• A change in the Table of Dimensional Requirements setting 300 square feet as the minimum size for a commercial lodging unit. Currently, the requirement is 1,000 square feet for a bedroom-only unit, while it is 800 square feet for a room that includes a kitchen. Staff said those are both higher than the norm, which is about 300 square feet.

• Rezoning Block 110, Lots 9, 10, 11 and 12 (96 Hollywood Street and 98 Hollywood Street) from R-1 Residential to C-1 Commercial. Currently, 96 Hollywood Street has 10 apartments and parking and 98 Hollywood Street is a multi-unit building. Graviet said the change would allow for a more unified commercial boundary and frontage on both S. Atlantic Avenue and Hollywood Street.

• Changes to the Table of Dimensional Requirements to resolve possible conflicts between the code and the Non-Residential Design Guidelines, related to building height and roof pitch.

• Deleting references to residential uses in the commercial districts. The C-2 Commercial district has no residential uses permitted, and staff said existing requirements for residential uses in the C-1 Commercial district that were intended to protect residential uses there would, in effect, prohibit the development of a hotel, which combines residential and commercial uses on lower floors, in a zone that currently requires mixed-use buildings to have only commercial uses on the first floor. A new C-1 Commercial/Residential title would apply to the zone.

In addition to the six proposed changes to the code that would impact the Bethany Arms project, the hearing will include a seventh issue unrelated to the Bethany Arms: An ordinance to amend Chapter 425 (Zoning), Article II (Terminology), Section 2 (Definitions and Word Usage) to update the definition of an accessory building.

That change would go toward better defining “accessory building” to avoid potential ambiguity regarding attached/detached garages that last year led to a property owner challenging the building inspector’s decision that a proposed garage was detached.

Detached garages must meet requirements for accessory buildings, such as sheds, including being located in the rear yard and being limited to a single story in height. The proposed garage was connected to the home only by a breezeway and was to be two stories in size, and was to be located to the side of the home.

The Board of Adjustments was split, 2-2, on the issue during the property owner’s appeal, failing to overturn the building inspectors ruling, and the case may go to the state court system for appeal.

The council is expected to vote on all seven of the proposed changes at future council meetings.